Tips for managing technical people – Let your managees lead meetings


30 July 2015, by

Galvanizing the geeksThe following is an excerpt from my new book, “Galvanizing the Geeks – Tips for Managing Technical People”. You can buy the full book on my website, here.

Gone are the days when companies were ruled with an iron fist. The old way of managing involved one person at the top making all the decisions, and everyone else implementing them. As long as everyone did what they were told, everything worked well.

The problem with one person making all the decisions is that, rather obviously, one person is only one person. The limit to how much knowledge one person can usefully act on may be quite large, but it is still a limit. Distributing the mental processing across everyone in the organisation rather than getting one individual to do it all just seems sensible.

And there’s another reason to get more people involved in the thinking process: people think differently. There are even benefits to having two people, rather than one, think about the same thing; they might come up with very different ideas.

I see an organisation as a series of ‘thinking parts’ working together to achieve an overall aim. The people who are working on specific deliverables do the thinking about the detail of those deliverables.  Other people will do their thinking at a level that agglomerates data across a group of deliverables; they can form general ideas and principles from this, and, because they have all the information, are best-placed to do so. But they are still not best-placed to decide on the detail, even if they are considered more ‘senior’.

However, people within a company are still human. This means that they often stray down the easier path of simply doing what they’re told and no more. So prevalent is this concept that people often do what they think they’re about to be told to do, even if they don’t feel threatened or coerced. It’s just quite an easy way to do your job.

The best way to tackle this issue is to try and reverse the usual management relationship. Your manager may set goals for you (or help you to set your goals), but once you know what you’re aiming for it’s your job to work out how to get there. You may need help and advice from your manager, but not because they’re telling you what to do – rather, because they’re a resource that’s available to you to use.

I have a meeting-plan format for two-person status chats that I use to help underline this idea. The key component is to get the more junior member of the chat to lead the meeting. This seems back-to-front for most people; when I ask them to set an agenda, they don’t know what to say. But once someone is happy with this format, I’ll get them to email their agenda in advance; I’ll also ask them to demonstrate good action tracking afterwards by emailing through the list of what was agreed in the meeting. This gives them a starting point for the next chat.

This can be quite scary as a manager, because someone might not ask you the ‘right’ questions. But provided that the brief is clear, either someone is not going to hit their targets (in which case you can – and must! – intervene), or they will hit their goals despite doing something that you consider suboptimal. This is the point at which you need to let them make their own decisions; otherwise you’ll undo all the good work of setting up an environment in which they can make their own decisions. ‘You can make your own decisions except when they disagree with mine’ is simply not effective.

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Categories: Technical

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